All markets are showing few rays of sunshine
THERE were few surprises in CRH's results yesterday because of the increasingly common habit of telling the market exactly what you are going to report several times in advance of results day.
All we were left with yesterday were CRH chief executive Myles Lee's predictions for 2010 and beyond, which were even gloomier than usual for this downbeat giant.
Mr Lee, who took the helm early last year, offered few reasons for hope. On Ireland, he was unremittingly gloomy, but he was hardly more cheerful when discussing the US, where the company makes about half its sales.
It is not hard to see why. Housing starts there are around 400,000 to 500,000, compared with more than 2 million at the height of the boom. Congress is currently debating a massive spending package to build new roads which will benefit CRH, but this sort of stimulus package has a limited lifespan and cannot be expected to boost CRH's results indefinitely.
Europe is proving no easier, with sales slumping in many countries as indebted governments curb spending and indebted citizens stop building houses. Demand for staples such as concrete is crumbling. Still, there is one bright spot for the building materials giant: the repair and maintenance sector.
While demand in this area has fallen, it has proved far more resilient than concrete or asphalt as home owners improve, extend or insulate their homes.
CRH's German customers spend €2 on repair and maintenance for every euro spent on building a new home. With a massive oversupply of houses in the English-speaking world precluding much home building for the next few years, it is a statistic that will give shareholders some comfort.